Thursday, October 7, 2010

Survival VS Bushcraft side by side

I recently did a piece on the difference and similarities between survival and self reliance.  Now I intend to show a comparison between survival and bushcraft.  Keep in mind that these are my opinions and you may disagree or agree, its all good.  When I say survival in the context of this article I am referring exclusively to wilderness survival training, not actually surviving an event or any of the other survival training scenarios like urban or TEOTWAWKI.

Survival and Bushcraft do share some similarities but the differences are probably at least as great.  It is like comparing football and futbol, sure there are guys on a field with a ball but that is about it.  The main difference between the two is that survival focuses on meeting your needs to sustain life.  Bushcraft focuses on refining skills, and building comfort in the wilderness but not necessarily for survival.  Essentially it is the mindset of the person doing the training.  If they were occupations I would list survival as a mechanic and bushcraft as an engineer.  Where the mechanic will get the car back on the road and occasionally engineers a solution to a complex problem, the engineer develops and refines a concept to create a car in the first place, while relying heavily on his own mechanical ability.

When folks head out to the hinterland in search of knowledge and adventure they usually bring a specific load out.  The bushcrafter will rely heavily on the small nimble knife like a Mora and usually a good quality axe.  The survivalist will have a tendency to lean toward a pair of knives, usually a heavy chopper and a smaller blade like a hunter not quite as small and nimble as a Mora.  This is not a rule it just happens to be the most usual mindset that I have observed, and both variations have merit.

The rest of the kit seems to be too variable to categorize but it seems to me that the bushcrafter tends to lean more toward traditional or more modest and/or natural looking products.  The survivalist will lean more toward multiple use items and lightweight, durable modern solutions although many prefer to lean in the direction of primitive and native American items as well.  Both will more than likely have many items that were crafted by hand and some are down right ingenious uses of natural or scavenged materials. 

Both schools of thought are heavily dependent upon your skill with a knife.  Both survivalists and bushcrafters in large part are gearaholics or recovering gearaholics.  Most have a ton of gear that they have tried and found to be not reliable or not what they desire.  Conversely, they both probably have a specific few items that will always accompany them out for training or recreation.  These few special items are usually  highly prized over everything else in their kit, and very often have a story or two that go with them.

If you are in a conversation with a survivalist or bushcrafter look for the most used but well maintained piece of gear they have and ask them to tell you the story behind it.  Many will tell you a story or two without skipping a beat. Or you may end up looking like a weirdo, you never can tell.

There are obviously a lot of similarities between the two and I think that is because the survivalist will eventually evolve into the bushcrafter.  When he has developed the core survival skills and a confidence to use them coupled with the experience to know what works.  He will start the evolution and begin to engineer better solutions for his survival and comfort.

I think that the largest separation is that bushcraft is primarily in the bush, and survival is anywhere you need to meet your needs.  In essence most of us are both survivalist and bushcrafters, the label that we hang on it depends what we are doing at the time.  Hope this helps to settle a few of the arguments.



  1. You have just described my evolution from Survivor/survivalist to bushcraft between 8 years old to 22 years old...

    Now my kit varies depending on what I'm going to do out (snowshoeing, alpinism, MTB,Hiking...= more survival kit, short hike in the woods training primitive skills and just bush-crafting = more traditional gear that could serve in a survival situation)

    I think that woodcrafting is an excellent way to masterize your blade(blades). I rely now specifically on blades of 5 inches or less, usually no axe or saw. This seems to hone my knife skills.

    being survivor or bushcrafter are two "adventures" that can bring you a fulfilling feeling of well being.

  2. Many thanks, I also made ​​the transfer between survival / bushcraft long time ago, I have 40 years, and my father taught us to be survivors. with time and trouble, I learn how to be a bushcraft. you hit the nail right on the head. Thank you.

  3. I would have to add that to me Bushcraft encompasses the skills used by native/tribal people all over the world, the knowledge of plants, animals, stone etc. in your immediate environment. A good introduction to Bushcraft is Ray Mears videos that are available on youtube. While some of the skills definitely overlap Survival is just that; surviving until you are rescued or self-rescue while Bushcraft is being able to live off the land, hopefully comfortably. I think that the equipment; knives, axe, saw etc. are less important to the definition than what is actually trying to be accomplished. Also if you were to take a "Bushcrafter" that was more familiar with say the Australian outback and placed them in the Alaskan wilderness they had better have a descent set of general survival skills because there bushcrafting that they were familiar with wouldn't get them very far.
    I am so glad someone finally brought this topic up because the two terms are often wrongly used interchangeably!!!